For people who are transgender, having ID that correctly reflects their name and gender is not simply a matter of accuracy. For trans individuals, having accurate ID is a matter of dignity. The lack of proper ID can pose barriers and create stigma when accessing medical care, receiving mental health services, applying for social assistance, securing housing and employment, opening bank accounts, voting and travelling – all services and experiences that require proper government-issued identification.
Applications to change one’s name and gender marker can be complex and paper-intensive. Many government forms are also not trans-inclusive. Many trans youth, having been rejected by their families, are living on the streets or are precariously housed. For those who do not have access to their existing identification, the name-change process is even more complex. Out-of-province applicants and newcomers to Canada face additional hurdles. Finally, application fees are extremely prohibitive for many people – the process of making a name change application, changing one’s gender marker, ordering an amended birth certificate, and applying for new identification documents such as passports and permanent resident cards, can cost up to several hundred dollars.
In response to this need, last fall PBSC launched the Trans ID Clinic. PBSC runs the project in partnership with Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP (Blakes) and SKETCH, a Toronto-based organization that engages young people through the arts who are navigating poverty, homelessness, and living on the margins.
The Trans ID Clinic provides free legal information and assistance with name change and gender marker change applications in a space that strives to be trans-positive, non-judgmental, anti-oppressive and inclusive. PBSC law student volunteers and lawyers from Blakes work collaboratively to assist trans youth with obtaining new pieces of identification. Justice for Children and Youth, a specialty legal clinic based in Toronto, provides legal training and ongoing support to our volunteers throughout the year.
During our inaugural year, PBSC ran a total of eight clinic sessions with a lean team of just two lawyers and two students per session. Our pilot was a great success, with a total of 22 people assisted. The majority of clients obtained help with birth certificate applications, gender marker change applications, and name change applications.
Client feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with 94% of clients describing the experience as helpful. PBSC also received exciting news coverage that brought much-needed attention to the project. HuffPost Canada published an article highlighting the systemic barriers that trans individuals face when they seek to obtain accurate ID. Xtra produced a video focusing on the journey of one of the Clinic’s clients, Octavius, a 20-year-old artist from Toronto. Octavius tells us that changing his name is a way for him to take control of his identity. The video follows Octavius as he navigates life, art, and the process for obtaining ID that correctly reflects his name. He explains that “being able to take control of how my name makes me feel is really empowering.”
This summer PBSC is working closely with several chapters across the country to establish additional Trans ID Clinics. We very much look forward to growing this initiative and providing as much support as possible to trans folks who are searching for resources and assistance with this issue.